Part 4(People Don’t Know How to Plan)

A common problem that we regularly see with clients in a broad spectrum of industries is that many people simply don’t have the ability to plan their section of the work required for the project to be successful.

Planning isn’t a skill that comes naturally to most people. It requires determined, focused mental effort – as Henry Ford is reputed to have said: “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it!” There are tools to assist with project planning, but these don’t necessarily break down the project into the component step-by-step parts that each individual will need to contribute.

This problem can lead to the project never getting off the ground at all, or alternatively, proceeding in a series of small gains followed by setbacks due to a lack of proper planning. This in turn can lead to discouragement and negative feeling on the part of all involved.

The Solution

To harness the true potential of every team member, and indeed for the project itself to be a success, it is essential that they each learn the vital skill that is planning. The project manager must be prepared to make this point firmly – and if necessary, repeatedly!

The manager cannot possibly do all the planning him or herself. This is the whole reason for having a team – each person brings unique knowledge, skills, and experience to their role and should be encouraged to use their ability to plan their work so that the project gains momentum and becomes established in your organization.

You can use the following sequence of planning to help you and everyone on the team ensure that a full and detailed plan is created for the project;

  • Background (narrative leading up to the project creation)
  • Objective (the vision for the completed project…. or “what ‘done’ looks like”)
  • Scope (who is involved, and how this project fits into the company goals as a whole)
  • Roles (individual areas of responsibility within the project team)
  • Work Breakdown Structure (a broad list of the different tasks within the project)
  • Responsibility Matrix (who is answerable to whom and for what)
  • Schedule (the all-important end deadline and the phases or steps in the project leading up to this)
  • Budget (total expenditure assigned to this project. May include a guide for amount of team member hours spent as well as money.)
  • Issues and Risk-Management (potential unintended consequences that the project might bring about and ways to deal with these)
  • Administration (how the project is to be coordinated and reported on)

The plan would usually be ‘fleshed out’ in project team meetings and then approved by the appropriate level of company management. At this point the plan should be distributed to all stakeholders in the project – the sponsor, line managers, and of course to all project team members.

It is important to ensure it is a ‘living’ plan – or in other words, a plan that is kept constantly updated with the myriad twists and unexpected turns that all projects inevitably must encounter. This way, the plan will be a useful resource for all of the team, and for senior managers, both as a reference guide to what has already been completed and a progress marker – giving a sense of distance to the end goal.

Following this schedule will give you, and most importantly everyone on your team a checklist to ensure that nothing gets overlooked. A plan does not have to include thousands of words, pretty diagrams, and exhaustive research. Rather, it is a working document, a functional tool that will help your project move towards the end goal in a relatively smooth fashion.

As the old saying goes, to fail to plan is to plan to fail. Take advantage of Cadence Management Corporation best-practices to ensure you plan to succeed!

For the entire Ask Cadence – Project Problem podcast series, visit iTunes.